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Silence beyond the Wisdom of Words, Violated without Action

The Unknown's picture

A constant refrain in my life is negotiating silences caused, perpetuated, and created by people.  I am discovering the meaning of this part of me that seems to hold be back and its manifestations. One-way my learning difference arises is though speech. How do I navigate or maneuver gracefully through listening and movement? I have trouble understanding when others communicate without words. Contrastingly, in “Silence: A Collage” Peter Elbow explains that most of the reasoning and nuances are found when people are not speaking: “The foundation of verbal meaning often lies in the silence of what is felt nonverbally and bodily” (Elbow 176).  What are people “saying”? What am I missing? What can I not comprehend? How do I make people feel heard? How am I supposed to respond? Without words? This challenge that I am naming is asking what it means to listen with intention, not to respond, but to grow.

I struggle to represent thoughts I want to share and experiences that I have been apart of without language or with an accessible language. I wonder how much my language has been conditioned and therefore limited. How much does the form of my communication present itself as white, upper class, possibly femelle? How much does listening play into relationships? How can I listen equally? I want to explore whether or not we listen to people equally. Who do we listen to more? How often should we listen? I find myself toiling over proving my angle and understanding that my ideas must be in-flux, open and vulnerable to change and contradiction. I need to have confidence and act in a way that show I am intrigued, that other people’s thoughts are vital to my own growth and understanding.

Listening is patience. We are waiting for someone to fully develop his/her/their ideas. We are pausing, not becomes it is easy, but to give space for growth. I am striving to find meaning and purpose and full articulation. I want to base my ideas and responses not based on silences, a lack of space for one to share in the way he/she/they desire, but on the times when thoughts are withdrawn most rhythmically. I think the advantages of listening are drawing connections. When we hear others, we have the opportunity for spoken or silent collaboration. I find myself in agreement more when I listen, yet I listen more when I my principles align with what I understand or interpret.

I fear what I miss, what is buried in silence. I am scared to know what we have not unraveled, what we have not asked from the silence. What has my voice driven away? Something I have mostly explored in the silences of my own guilt and scornful reflections was the ultimate silencing of a friend of mine. What had I not gathered from the empty spaces between, signaling his departure? Was his, a life lost to silence, where his brushstrokes could no longer paint the desired connections? Were his offerings of Brie time also a weakness, an urgency to divulge what neither of us could name?

These for me are the most difficult silences, when we should of, could of, but didn’t act, didn’t know how to, what to, where were the words? Given time, answers do not flow easier, but only seem more convoluted, entangled in a web of unknowns. Listening can be the discomfort of embracing those unknowns.

How can one vocalize silence? How can we share what has been suppressed, ignored, untold, silenced? How can we transform the silence of erasure? I think we are not looking for the silent communications. Expression without words has been suppressed and misunderstood. Forgetting has often been a form of exclusionary silence. We have chosen to break the ties and bonds of correlation to remain in this exclusionary silence. We have not remembered our diverse and entangled roots. We only abstractly divorce ourselves from our multi-layered composition. Recognition is a form of voice.

Is listening ever silent? How can we constantly place ourselves in relation? What does it mean to be silently rooted in a conversation? How can I position myself apart and for the collective that drifts between verbalism and exploration?

When do we and how can we question silently? I want to investigate listening, expanding what is offered, and yet not necessarily standing in agreement, but still present and aware. How can I appreciate the continuities, the modifications and still be me? I want to look in the same direction, see where others find their voice, their motions, the enigmas they find themselves caught in. Why is suffering not more collective? Is empathy not a form of awakening silences? Solidarity and understanding must be revisited and redefined to break through these silences.

How can we represent our voice, our desire to call out injustice, without words? When are words not the answer? How and when can my silence provide space for someone else’s voice? When and how do I silence others? When and how do I silence myself? When is silence fruitful?

When, if ever do we want our words to be permanent?

Why do we struggle to communicate with others most when we cannot use our voices? How do we agree without language? Why do we fear silence? What is uncovered/ discovered in silence? Where do we wander? Where do we stray?

How is silence an emptiness or a lack there or? What is missing? Emily Dickinson writes in her poem “407”, “If what we could-were what we would” (Dickinson 1). Upon reflection, is the blank space silence? Is it the silence of opportunity? Learning? Growth? I am lost in the confusion and struggle to decipher the many silences and there complex, ever-changing meanings.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. "Poems on Silence." N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Serendip Studio. Web. 3  Sept. 2015.

Peter Elbow. “Silence:  A Collage.” Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.    173-183


Anne Dalke's picture

You took the risk of talking here about your disability: you have trouble processing what others re saying, and get caught up sometimes in your own patterns of abstract thinking. You described, in conference, a contradiction in your family behaviors: being well-informed, and adamant about what they think, while @ the same time realizing that none of us ever have the full picture: how to listen to others?

I shared with you some material from our Identity Matters about 'the listening bowl.'

The project that you might take on here is learning more about your own disability, which involves, in part, seeing different patterns and non-obvious connections. Can you research this, to find out more about how your brain works, and how to help it work more effectively with others different from your own? Your focus will be on listening and interpreting conversations. Our expectation is that you'll find it easier to learn about academic dimensions of this, and less about the social ones; but the hope @ this point is that you'd end up with some understanding of some concrete skills that you can use.